Review – Shot in the Dark

If there’s one thing I wasn’t expecting from 2021, it was playing the closest recreation of a proper Jonah Hex video game out of a super simplistic, retro-styled action platformer that only features three colors in its palette. And I certainly wasn’t expecting for this game, the aptly named Shot in the Dark, to feature such interesting gameplay ideas and some genuinely creepy moments because of its limited graphical style.

Shot in the Dark

I see you!

In Shot in the Dark, you take control of a nameless cowboy. You know nothing about him nor do you know nothing about what the hell you’re doing in this proto 8-bit landscape. All you know is that you have a six-shooter and you’re supposed to move forward. After walking through a few screens and receiving a few hints from talking cacti (yep, that’s something that happens), you’ll find a church with what seems to be a portal inside. This is when the proper game begins. You need to clear each short level all while avoiding getting killed by rival cowboys and the supernatural.

This is where the game’s ultra simplistic visuals start making sense. Shot in the Dark features three colors in its palette: black, white, and red. Demons are completely comprised of black sprites, meaning that they disappear in dark backgrounds. You need to either pay attention to their eyes occasionally glowing red, or lure them near a place with white details in the background, allowing you to properly see them. If they touch you, you’re dead. Granted, you can quickly respawn at the beginning of each level, a-la Hotline Miami, but it’s still a challenge nonetheless.

Shot in the Dark

You can’t kill these adorably creepy ghosts. They are basically platforming obstacles.

There are other kinds of enemies, such as completely invisible monsters that can only be seen via reflections in the water, invincible ghosts that act more like platforming obstacles, and zombified cowboys that can shoot you just like you can shoot them. Of course, there are many other kinds of enemies to deal with throughout the entire campaign as well. Somehow, Shot in the Dark manages to be quite creepy despite its visual simplicity. You never know when you’re going to be ambushed, or who’s going to ambush you. Even if the sound department is mediocre at best, the dark imagery is enough to make you feel quite tense.

Shot in the Dark features intentionally clunky controls that help create an even more unsettling scenario. Even though you’re supposed to be a cool cowboy, you’re no McCree from Overwatch: you cannot shoot your revolver quickly or while moving. You can only shoot by first holding down the mouse’s right button, which renders you immobile, then aim at someone or something and shoot with the left button. You cannot fire multiple shots quickly as well, nor can you reload all six rounds at once. You’ll also have to slowly reload each bullet manually, adding an extra layer of challenge and strategy to the mix, especially in later levels.

I don’t know if this is a boss battle or if I’ve just stormed into a black metal band’s rehearsal.

The one thing I didn’t like about Shot in the Dark‘s gameplay is its weird jumping physics, or lack thereof. Despite not being Ghosts ‘n Goblins levels of clunky, there’s a weird lack of momentum in your movement and jumping, which can make some platforming sections quite difficult. Not even the simplistic visuals hindered me and made me die as much as some of the game’s platforming sections.

“It’s high noon”… Actually, it isn’t, it’s way past midnight.

All in all, Shot in the Dark is a very simple and straightforward game, but it succeeds at what it wanted to do: provide a genuinely creepy experience with the simplest graphics and controls one could imagine. This game made me feel more unsettled than many modern horror games out there. It might look like the most backwards retro game of the past 30 years or so, but it’s genuinely well-crafted, and not often unfair. Not to mention this is basically the best Jonah Hex game we’ve had since… forever…


Graphics: 7.0

Shot in the Dark might look excessively simplistic, but that’s part of what makes it so interesting. The color palette is quite striking and the ultra-retro visuals are a key factor of the game’s “light and shadow” gameplay.

Gameplay: 7.5

A very simple control scheme that uses very few keys and the mouse. I like the manual reload system, adding an extra layer of strategy and challenge to the mix. I don’t like the fact your character lacks momentum whenever moving. Whether that was intentional or just a bug remains to be seen.

Sound: 5.5

Shot in the Dark‘s pre-8-bit aesthetics might be good to create creepy visuals, but the same cannot be said about its soundtrack.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Shot in the Dark features a lot of gameplay and visual limitations that actually result in a challenging and occasionally tense gameplay loop. It’s always fair and creepy, even though you’re looking at extremely stretched pixels.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Shot in the Dark is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Shot in the Dark was provided by the publisher.